[Note: The following article, written by Saul Pett of the Associated Press in the days following the president's death, is the finest piece of writing I've ever read regarding the mood of the nation in those days. It's long, but I hope you'll read it if for no other reason than I had to type it all out from my own copy due to the fact it's not on the inter-net.]The Day a Great Shadow Fell On the Land
By Saul PettAssociated Press
And the word went out from that time and place and cut the heart of a nation. In streets and offices and homes and stores, in lunch rooms and show rooms and school rooms and board rooms, on highways and prairies and beaches and mountain tops, in endless places crowded and sparse, near and far, white and black, Republican and Democrat, management and labor, the word went out and cut the heart of a nation.
And husbands called wives and wives called friends and teachers told students and motorists stopped to listen on car radios and stranger told stranger. Oh, no! we cried from hearts stopped by shock, from minds fighting the word, but the word came roaring back, true, true, true, and disbelief dissolved in tears.
Incredibly, in a time of great numbers, in a time of repeated reminders that millions would die in a nuclear war, in a time when experts feared we were being numbed by numbers and immunized against tragedy, the death of a single man crowded into our souls and flooded our hearts and filled all the paths of our lives.
A great shadow fell on the land and the farmer summoned to the house did not find the will to return to the field, nor the secretary to the typewriter, nor the machinist to the lathe.
There was a great slowing down and a great stopping and the big bronze gong sounded and a man shouted the market is closed and the New York Stock Exchange stopped, just stopped. The Boston Symphony Orchestra stopped a Handel concerto and started a Beethoven funeral march and the Canadian House of Commons stopped and a dramatic play in Berlin stopped and the United Nations in New York stopped and Congress and courts and schools and race tracks stopped, just stopped. And football games were canceled and theaters were closed and in Dallas a nightclub called the Carousel was closed by a mourner named Jack Ruby.
In Washington, along Pennsylvania Avenue, they had waited silently all that Friday night outside the iron picket fence, their eyes scarcely leaving the lovely old house. Early in the evening the guards had kept them moving and so they walked slowly down the street, eyes right, and at the corner they turned and came back on the street side of the sidewalk, eyes left. They looked like a strange silent group of mournful pickets demonstrating love, not protest.
In the chill darkness before dawn, they were still there, now motionless, standing, staring across the broad lawn and through the bare elms at the house, at the softly lighted windows in the family quarters, at the black crepe lately hug over the door under the north portico.
They saw the blinking red lights of the police cars up Pennsylvania Avenue and they knew this was the moment. The president was coming home. No sirens, no police whistles, no barking of orders that usually accompanied his return. At 4:22 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 23, 1963, there seemed to be no sound on the street or in the land.
The gray Navy ambulance and the six black cars behind it paused at the northwest gate and turned in. And along the fence, men removed their hats and the teen-agers removed their hands from the pockets of their jeans and women tightened their fingers around the pickets of the fence. Tears stained their faces, their young and their old faces, their white and their black faces.
At the gate the procession was met by a squad of Marines and led in along the gracefully curving drive between the elms. In days to come there would be larger and more majestic processions, but none so slow, none so geared to the rhythm of tears, as the cadence of the Marines this Saturday morning. In two straight lines, glistening bayoneted rifles held across their chests at port arms, they marched oh so slowly up the drive and all that could be heard was the sound of their shoes sliding on the macadam.
Under the portico, under the handsome hanging lantern, they stopped and divided and line up with the soldiers and sailors and airmen on the sides of the steps, at the stiffest, straightest attentions of their lives. Jacqueline Kennedy emerged first from the ambulance, still wearing the same pink suit stained through eternity the afternoon before.
With her husband's brother, the attorney general of the United States, with his other brother, the youngest member of the U.S. Senate, with his sisters and his friends and aides whom he had led to this house, this far and now no farther, Jacqueline Kennedy waited in motionless silence while the flag-covered casket was removed from the ambulance. Then she and they turned in behind it and walked up the steps and through the glass doors and into the lobby and down the long corridor lined with stiff, silent men in uniform and finally came to a stop in the East Room.
There the casket was laid gently onto the black catafalque that held Mr. Lincoln on another dark incredible night almost 100 years ago. There, the kneeling priests began praying as they and others would through the long day and night by the flickering light of the candles which silhouetted the honor guard riveted to the floor.
In the great stillness, under the black-draped chandeliers, one tried not to hear the mocking echoes or see the remembered sights, of Pablo Casals bowing the cello, of ballet dancers pirouetting, of great actors reading Shakespeare and Nobel scientists as excited as children by the house, of the Marine Corps quartet playing while the president and his lady danced and the great and the glamorous of the world danced in a merry swirl of coattails and long gowns.
But now it was 10 o'clock in the morning of a Saturday in another time and Jacqueline Kennedy, still sleepless, returned to the silent East Room. She kissed her husband for the last time and the casket was sealed. A few moments later, she returned with her children and spoke to them quietly, trying to tell them something of the fact and the meaning of death. A fact and a meaning for which millions groped that day.
Radio Moscow played funeral music until sign-off and in London the great tenor bell of Westminster Abbey tolled every minute for an hour. New Ross, Ireland, where they called him "cousin Jack," closed its shops and drew the window shades, and in West Berlin, Germans by the thousands marched in the rain by torchlight, wordlessly. Sihanouk of Cambodia ordered anti-American posters hauled down and in Tokyo Bay flags of the U.S. Seventh Fleet dipped in salute while little Japanese fishing boats, on a condolence call, came close to the great gray warships, their tiny flags at half-mast, too.
Clear, bright sunlight and an arching blue sky promised a serene Sunday in Washington, even a sense of gathering majesty as the procession formed to take John F. Kennedy from the White House to the Capitol.
Soldiers, sailors and airmen stood at ease awaiting the start. Ten Army drummers began beating out their muffled tattoo. White House employees, cooks and maids, secretaries and gardeners, gathered forlornly on the lawn to watch their president pass down an archway of 50 flags.
"Hey!" shouted a teen-ager with a radio stuck in his ear. "Oswald was just shot!"
Live on television, before millions, Lee Harvey Oswald was shot in the basement of the Dallas jail by Jack Ruby. He died soon at the same hospital attended by some of the same doctors who had pronounced the same verdict over the body of the president of the United States two days before.
Serenity, dignity, any suggestion of majesty suddenly drained out of the American system. A deep sense of national tragedy was now joined by a deep sense of national disarray. Were we to believe that a sullen little man, for his own twisted reasons, could kill a president and then, while in police custody, himself be killed by another little man with his twisted reasons?
"My God, my God!" cried House Speaker John McCormack. "What are we coming to?"
John Kennedy lay in state in the soaring Rotunda of the Capitol, surrounded by family and friends, by allies and foes in a government now united by shock and shame. No movement or expression among his wife and children, his brothers and sisters escaped the TV cameras.
Outside, in the gathering chill, the public had formed itself into a long line to view the bier. Soon the line stretched 20 blocks, a silent, shivering stream of mourners which, by dawn, grew to a great river of sorrow.
On Monday, the sun was bright over the White House and the whole panoply of power and grandeur, foreign and domestic, was ready. Under the handsome hanging lantern of the north portico, the caisson and coffin were ready.
He was leaving the noble old house for the last time and one tried to remember what drew John Kennedy here the first time. It was, he used to say, the center of action, and the center of action always pulled at him, at home or at college, at war or at peace. And so he went into politics, this man who was not a natural politician, this man whose sense of privacy and dignity rebelled at the Indian feathers to be worn and the babies to be kissed and the whole turning outside of the inside of a man. But there was the center of action pulling at him and there was his favorite proverb from the Greeks, "Happiness is the full use of your powers along lines of excellence in a life affording scope." Here, at this old house, had he reached the peak of his powers?
But now it was time to go.
The muffled drums began and the cadets of the academies moved forward, and across the way, through the elms and over the lawn, the bells of St. John's Episcopal, "the Church of Presidents," began to toll. And the Black Watch bagpipers moved into place, as so many small parts moved into place this day, because Jacqueline Kennedy had remembered that two weeks ago on the White House lawn he had enjoyed their music.
There came then striding up the avenue the joint chiefs of staff, heroic in braid, the symbols of the vast power that could not save him. Could not save the man who had survived the war as a Navy lieutenant but not the peace as commander-in-chief. There came then the seven matched grays pulling the caisson and casket and the riderless horse, empty boots reversed, silver sword sheathed in the ancient manner of mourning the fallen warrior.
There came then Jacqueline Kennedy, now the pride of a nation, and she suddenly let go the hand of Robert Kennedy and stepped out on her own, head high, shoulders back, stride firm. Up the avenue she strode, beautiful in black and gallant in purpose, with her husband's brothers and sisters and their wives and their husbands, this remarkable family.
There came then the new president and the new first lady, surrounded by young men nervously scanning the huge muted crowd along the curb and the windows above and rooftops above them and all sudden movement near and far.
There came then the strangest of all sights, in large shapes and small, in cadence and out, the princes and kings, the foreign presidents and prime ministers marching up an America street past American drugstores and American cafeterias and Americans mourning their president. De Gaulle of France in olive gray, Selassie of Ethiopia heavy with medals, Baudouin of Belgium in khaki, Philip of England in Royal Navy blue, Frederika of Greece in fur, Mikoyan of Russia in black coat and striped trousers; in all, 200 marching symbols from 92 nations.
There came then, from the government, from the government of law, the justices of the Supreme Court and the men of the Cabinet and the members of the Congress and, perhaps saddest of all, the tiny group of close friends and advisers who had followed him all the way and were still following him: Pierre Salinger, who worried about his image, and Ted Sorensen about his rhetoric, and Kenny O'Donnell, about his appointments and much more than that.
Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston came down the steps of St. Matthew's Cathedral to greet the family. "Rose, my dear, my dear," he said, embracing the mother of the dead president, who had lost two other children in war and peace.
Jacqueline Kennedy, now joined by her children, knelt to kiss the cardinal's ring and he leaned down to kiss Caroline and pat little John, who had begun to cry on this, his third birthday. Here, still, in the march of the family milestones was the gaunt old priest, who had married John and Jacqueline Kennedy 10 years before and baptized their children and presided at the funeral of their infant son and droned out the invocation at the inauguration of the 35th president of the United States.
And into the cathedral they all went in such diversity as to include Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman and John Glenn and Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater and Billy Graham and Henry Ford II and George Wallace of Alabama and Martin Luther King of Georgia.
And at the end of the Mass, with a sprinkler of holy water in his hand, the old cardinal circled the coffin, blessing it as he went. "May the angels, dear Jack, lead you into paradise. . . ."
And the Most. Rev. Philip M. Hannan, auxiliary bishop of Washington, closed his eulogy with a long passage from John Kennedy's inaugural address and once more there returned the vision of a new young leader, the vapors of his breath circling his head in the wintry air, calling his countrymen to a new journey."Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans -- born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of their ancient heritage. . . ."
And now two years and 10 months later it was time to move again. And once more they carried the casket out into the bright sunlight and Jacqueline Kennedy paused on the steps of the cathedral with her children. As he watched his father's casket being borne down the steps, little John Kennedy squinted in the sun and saluted.
And the procession re-formed in cars, and rolled slowly down the broad boulevard, past the Lincoln Memorial, over the Memorial Bridge and through the high iron gates of Arlington National Cemetery, and the line was so long the last cars were still leaving the cathedral as the first cars were entering the cemetery three miles away.
The bagpipers of the Air Force marched over the lip of the hill playing "The Mist Covered the Mountain," one of John Kennedy's favorite tunes. And the Marine Corps band played "The Star Spangled Banner" as the body was carried up the grassy slope, the same slope he had visited on a smiling spring day in March. "I could stay up here forever," he had said then.
Forever was here and the sun was sinking behind the Virginia hills. The old cardinal came forward again and, in a tone pitched to the spheres, he commended the body of "this wonderful man, Jack Kennedy" to God. From out of the sky in the south 50 jets roared overhead and there again was Air Force One now dipping its wings, now again as majestic as the "United States of America" lettered along its length. And three cannons, firing in turn, pounded out the last 21-gun salute and up on the hill three riflemen fired a final farewell volley of three rounds.
Taps was sounded over the hill and the flag was raised taut and level over the coffin and folded with loving care and passed from hand to hand to the hand of the widow and the eternal flame was lighted and the Lord's Prayer was intoned once more. And at 3:34 o'clock, on the afternoon of the fourth day, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was lowered gently to his grave.